Disclaimer - this article is written for educational purposes only and is not aimed to replace advice from a qualified professional.
Almost all of us experience excessive worry, uneasiness or dread from time to time, and this is normal. Anxiety is a natural mechanism telling us we are in danger, whether real or not, that tries to protect us.
Some of us are experiencing it right now for no apparent reason. It’s an ongoing battle with its “good days” and “bad days''. This worry is not temporary and it is overwhelming.
If it’s been happening for more days than you can count or you don’t remember when was the last time you felt relaxed; if it affects your daily life -work, relationships, social life, and more - please see a professional.
Today we will try to help you understand if what you feel is anxiety, why you are anxious and what to do with this feeling (it could be something you can fix yourself).
First, do you have any of these anxiety symptoms?
Symptoms may differ from person to person but the main physical symptoms to expect when our bodies respond to stress or threat are:
- Excessive sweat;
- Rapid breathing;
- Trembling body;
- Heart rate goes up suddenly;
- Feeling restless and tense;
- Struggle to concentrate;
- Can’t sleep;
Those symptoms coupled with the struggle to stop thinking negatively and constantly worrying could mean you have a form of anxiety.
Could you have any of these anxiety disorders?
Here is a quick overview of major types of anxiety disorders. There are 6 main types of anxiety:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - this is an excessive worry about everyday life events and it develops when you can’t cope well with stress and lasts 6 months or more; among other reasons, it can also develop as a side effect of medicines you are taking or medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism.
- Social Anxiety Disorder - it is a fear of being around other people and as a result, avoiding social interactions; whilst most people can get through uncomfortable situations (public speaking or starting a conversation with a stranger), people with a social anxiety disorder get too overwhelmed by it and physical symptoms come on.
- Phobias - the irrational fear that comes on suddenly and lasts for a few minutes. Phobia may be caused by a “very bad first encounter with the feared object or situation”.
- Panic Disorder - panic disorder implies that you experience frequent panic attacks when there is no known danger or trigger; panic attacks are thought to be “false alarms” where your body’s survival instincts are overly active.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - disturbing thoughts or obsessions over something where the person suffering is unable to control or get rid of them;
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - disturbing thoughts and feelings related to a traumatic event in the past. People with PTSD experience flashbacks or nightmares.
Are you at risk?
There are general risk factors for all types of anxiety disorders:
- Personality traits, for example, being shy in new situations or with people you don’t know.
- Stressful and negative life events you have experienced in the past; could have happened in your childhood many years ago and you still remember them subconsciously.
- Family history of mental disorders; usually, close relatives. If no one comes to your mind, think if any of them have struggled with anxiety disorder in the past.
- Health conditions, for example, thyroid problems or heart arrhythmia.
There are also triggers like caffeine, alcohol, messy house, toxic work environment, debt, arguments, and more - any one of them could be contributing to anxiety. Good thing about them is that you can manage them yourself, for example, by cutting down on caffeine or tidying your house if you’ve not had a spare minute in how long…
If your feelings of anxiety come and go and you can’t explain why this is happening (no trauma, no stress, everyone in your family is perfectly fine), the following section may help you.
Basic human needs and anxiety
Let’s look at the concept of basic human needs and how unmet needs can be making you anxious. Human needs psychology measures your happiness and fulfilment by looking at your 6 basic needs and once the unmet needs are identified, it’s time to work on them. If not, you will continue being unhappy, and experiencing stress and anxiety.
Certainty refers to safety or stability and can be things like having a permanent home to live in, a stable job and steady income, and steady relationships. When you have certainty in your life, you feel secure and confident that “everything will be fine” when you wake up tomorrow. If not, there’s chaos in your head. Remember yourself in your late teens and 20s?
As much as you need certainty in your life, you also need some variety. When was the last time you got in your car and drove somewhere by yourself? What about going to the group exercise class or learning martial arts? Or quitting the job you hate?
No one will guarantee that everything will go smoothly in your first martial arts lesson or you will get a new job in a week but isn’t it what makes your life exciting? Prepare yourself for it, though - save up some money to avoid money anxiety.
Significance is about feeling important to yourself. It could be your achievements, skills, being the best mum/dad, or even status and money. You want to be recognised, you want to be noticed and validated.
Feeling significant does not mean having a high ego - it means that you are a goal-setter and thrive to be successful in life whilst being a great person to be around.
Love and Connection
Every human being has the need to love and be loved, connect with others and be a part of a group or something bigger - even if you are an introvert, sometimes you need that social interaction with others. Remember the days when you had a cold or flu and had to stay home with very little interaction with the outside world ? What were your thoughts? How did you feel?
Other humans make you human.
This can be physical, emotional or spiritual growth. This is what makes us fulfilled with our life. If you know you are the person who always strives to improve but have been stuck in a rut for some time now - why is this happening and how can you change that?
Contribution is what makes many people who contribute the happiest they’ve ever been because giving feels so good.If you have everything -certainty, variety, love, connection, growth opportunities - contributing, or giving back is the best you can do for people around you.
Set some time aside to think about what needs you are not fulfilling and how it makes you feel, and see what steps you can take to change that.